Upton Sinclair
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Radium Age SF

In 1906, UPTON SINCLAIR (1878-1968) published The Jungle, a bestselling fictional exposé that used Chicago’s meatpacking industry as a stage upon which to dramatize the suffering visited upon laborers by unregulated capitalism. Though Congress swiftly passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, Sinclair’s twenty-fourth novel had zero effect upon its intended target. (“So long as we have wage slavery,” laments one character, “it matters not in the least how debasing and repulsive a task may be, it is easy to find people to perform it.”) Sinclair, who griped that “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach,” used his new wealth to establish a utopian colony (Helicon) in Englewood, N.J, before going on to churn out sixty-five more titles in various genres. It must be acknowledged that Sinclair was a mediocre novelist. We’ve included him in our pantheon because he participated in two Argonaut Follies: Helicon, which soon burned down; and the Forte Circle (1910-15), an international cabal of activist intellectuals — including Martin Buber and Gustav Landauer — who attempted to prevent WWI. However, certain of his books are worth the effort: The Brass Check (1919), a still-pertinent criticism of “objective” journalism; The Millennium (1924), a Radium Age sci-fi play; Oil! (1927), the novel on which Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was loosely based; and Boston (1928), a “documentary novel” about Sacco and Vanzetti. Co-Op (1936), a “novel of living together,” also sounds promising.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Jay Ward and Stevie Smith.

READ MORE about members of the Psychonaut generation (1874-83).


In 2012–2013, HiLoBooks serialized and republished (in gorgeous paperback editions, with new Introductions) 10 forgotten Radium Age science fiction classics! For more info: HiLoBooks.

MORE RADIUM AGE SCI FI ON HILOBROW: HiLoBooks homepage! | What is Radium Age science fiction? | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Radium Age Science Fiction Poetry | Enter Highbrowism | Bathybius! Primordial ooze in Radium Age sf | War and Peace Games (H.G. Wells’s training manuals for supermen) | J.D. Beresford | Algernon Blackwood | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Karel Čapek | Buster Crabbe | August Derleth | Arthur Conan Doyle | Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Cicely Hamilton | Hermann Hesse | William Hope Hodgson | Aldous Huxley | Inez Haynes Irwin | Alfred Jarry | Jack Kirby (Radium Age sf’s influence on) | Murray Leinster | Gustave Le Rouge | Gaston Leroux | David Lindsay | Jack London | H.P. Lovecraft | A. Merritt | Maureen O’Sullivan | Sax Rohmer | Paul Scheerbart | Upton Sinclair | Clark Ashton Smith | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Olaf Stapledon | John Taine | H.G. Wells | Jack Williamson | Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz | S. Fowler Wright | Philip Gordon Wylie | Yevgeny Zamyatin



Joshua Glenn is an author, publisher, and semiotic analyst. He is co-author (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) of THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and co-author (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) of the family activities guide UNBORED and three forthcoming spinoffs, including UNBORED Games. He is editor of HILOBROW and publisher of the Radium Age science fiction imprint HiLoBooks. Also: Glenn manages a secretive online community known as the Hermenautic Circle; he is founding editor of the e-book club Save the Adventure; and he's a frequent co-host of Boing Boing's podcast GWEEK. In the ’00s, Glenn was an editor, columnist, and blogger for the Boston Globe's IDEAS section, he co-founded the international semiotics website SEMIONAUT, and contributed to CABINET, SLATE, and elsewhere. In the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT, worked as a dotcom and magazine editor, and contributed to THE BAFFLER, FEED, and elsewhere. His publishing company is King Mixer, LLC; and his semiotic analysis consultancy is Semiovox LLC. He lives in Boston with his wife and children.